Textron Innovations Inc. (Providence, RI)

A tip gap control system to control an aircraft with ducts comprises a flight computer with blade length controller module that creates an actuator command for the blade tip. Also, a proprotor control system is in communication with the flight control machine. Proprotor system consists of the proprotor blades, a duct and a duct surrounding them. Each proprotor blade has an active blade tip that is able to be moved into different positions as well as retracted and extended. A few actuators are connected to the active blade tips for the control of the gap between them. One or more actuators are utilized to move the blade tips of active blades from one position to another based on the blade actuator command. This allows for the management of the tip gap between blades on proprotors and ducts as well as the duct.

Ducted rotor systems offer several advantages over open-rotor systems, where the rotor blades are exposed. For example, ducted rotor systems emit less noise and are therefore more preferred in situations where a quiet environment is desired like during air surveillance, clandestine operations, or flights in urban airspace. Ducts improve the safety of crew members and ground personnel by stopping contact with an operating rotating rotor. Rotors exposed to the sun could result in blade tip thrust losses during flight. A ducted rotor produces more thrust by reducing blade tip losses than an open system, particularly at low speed and high static thrust levels. Additionally the capabilities of thrust vectoring of open rotor systems are limited as is the utilization of pressure differentials in order to boost thrust.

The tip gap between blade tips in a ducted-rotor device and the duct is critical for its performance. In order to maximize the performance of ducts it is essential that ducted rotor systems have a minimum gap over the entire flight area. For instance, ducted rotor systems are the most effective in hovering when the tip gap is as low as it is. Conversely, the tip gap must be sufficiently large to prevent collisions between blades of the rotor as well as the duct while in operation. The gap at the tip of a ductedrotor system may change during flight due to the deformation and deflecting of the duct, rotorblades and stators under load. The ducted proprotor is subject to high loads in the transition from vertical takeoff, landing and forward flight modes. The tipgap can be affected by the high-transition loads which could cause damage to the proprotor blades, the duct and stators, as with other components of the ducted propeller system. Unexpected collisions with ducted rotor systems during flight, such as bird strikescan also impact the tip gap. Current ducted aircraft are unable to monitor, manage and control the changing tip gap of their ducted rotors, which necessitatesshortening the rotor blades more than necessary to prevent collisions between the rotor blades and duct, which in turn leads to performance degradation. Accordingly, a need has arisen for tip gap monitoring and control systems that actively,semi-actively or passively enable the rotor blades of a ducted rotor system to be as close as possible to the duct while mitigating the risk of collision between the rotor blades and the duct.

In the first, the present disclosure is directed to the tip gap control system for an aircraft with ducts. The tip gap control system includes a flight computer with a blade length controller module that generates an actuation command for the blade tip. Proprotor systems are also involved in data communication with the flight control. The proprotor system comprises an duct and proprotor blades which are enclosed by the duct. Each proprotor blade has an active blade tip, which can be moved to various locations, including extended and retracted. There are actuators additionally attached to the active blade tips for tip gap control. The actuators move the blade tips of active blades between different positions according to the command of the blade tip actuator which controls the gap between the proprotor blades and the duct.

Certain embodiments could also incorporate a tip adjustment distance. This allows the actuators to alter the active blade tips in accordance to the tip gap adjustment. The blade tip actuatorcommandmay include one or more blade-specific tips actuator commands. Every blade-specific actuator command corresponds to any of the active tips. In some instances, the command for the blade tip actuator could comprise retract or an extend command, which is one or more actuators that are designed to move the active blade tips a predetermined distance in response to receiving the command to move the blade tip. In certain embodiments the proprotor blades could have the main body that has an open distal portion and the active blade tips slidingly connected to the distal edges of the main bodies of proprotor blades. These designs allow the active blade tips to at least partially retract into the proprotor bodies and mainbodies when in extended or retracted positions. This increases the gap at the tip in retracted positions.

In certain embodiments, each of the proprotor blades can include a main body having an elongated distal end, and the active blade tips being hingeably coupled to the distal ends of the main bodies of the proprotor blades. These embodiments may have the active blade tips substantially aligned to the main bodies in the extended position. They also create an angle less than 180 degrees with the main bodies in the extended position. This can increase the gap between the tips. In certain embodiments the proprotor blades may comprise a spring that is biased to the active blade tip in the retracted and extended position. In some instances the blade tips of active blades could be independently actuated topermit nonuniform position of the active blade tips. In some embodiments, the proprotor may comprise a proprotor hub, the one or more actuators disposed at the proprotor hub. A number of actuators may be linked to the active blade tips using a plurality spanwise links. One or more actuators can be located near the distal ends of proprotor blades. Each actuator is linked to one of the active tip blade tips.

The present disclosure also addresses a rotorcraft that includes an aircraft fuselage, a flight computer, and a blade length controller module. This module creates an actuator command for the blade’s tip. A proprotor system is coupled to the fuselage and also to data communications with the flight computer. The proprotor system is comprised of a duct, and proprotor blades, which are enclosed by the conduit. Each of the proprotor blades has the active blade tips that is able to move in various positions including a retracted position and an extended position. The proprotor system also includes one or more actuators connected to the active blade tips. The actuators shift the blade tips in the active area around in different positions according to the blade tipactuator’s command which controls a tip gap between the proprotor blades and the duct.

In certain embodiments, the rotorcraft may include a maneuver detection module configured to detect an air condition in the rotorcraft like a flight maneuver or a flight mode, and a blade length control module is configured to detect the command for bladetip actuator in relation to the flight conditions.

In a third aspect, the present disclosure is directed to the control of a tip gap for an aircraft ducting, including creating an actuator command for the blade and transmitting the blade tip actuator command to a proprotor system including proprotor blades and aduct, the proprotor blades including active blade tips; and transferring at least one of the blade tips that are active between a retracted and an extended position in response to the blade tip actuator command, thereby controlling the tipgap between the proprotor blades and the duct.

In some instances, the method could include generating the blade tip actuator command upon receiving an adjustment distance for the tip gap. In some embodiments, the method may include generating the command to activate the blade tip in response to the gap adjustment distance that is greater than the tip gap adjustment threshold. The method could also include the generation of the command for the blade tip actuator depending on the pitch of the blades of the proprotors. In certain instances, the ducted aircraft may be able to switch between a vertical takeoff landing flight mode and forward flight mode. In such instances the method may comprise moving the active blade tips between the retracted and the extended position in response to the ducted aircraft switching between the vertical takeoff and landing flight mode as well as the forward flight mode. The method could also comprise retracting active blade tips when there’s a structural defect in the proprotor system. In certain embodiments, the method may consist of retracting the active blade tips in response to detecting an impact with the proprotor system. In some embodiments, the method might include shifting the active blade tips so that the gap between the tips is equal to a tip gap the target.

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